The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History

Written by: Jonathan Franzen

The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History Book Cover
Jonathan Franzen arrived late, and last, in a family of boys in Webster Groves, Missouri. The Discomfort Zone is his intimate memoir of his growth from a "small and fundamentally ridiculous person," through an adolescence both excruciating and strangely happy, into an adult with embarrassing and unexpected passions. It's also a portrait of a middle-class family weathering the turbulence of the 1970s, and a vivid personal history of the decades in which America turned away from its midcentury idealism and became a more polarized society.

The story Franzen tells here draws on elements as varied as the explosive dynamics of a Christian youth fellowship in the 1970s, the effects of Kafka's fiction on his protracted quest to lose his virginity, the elaborate pranks that he and his friends orchestrated from the roof of his high school, his self-inflicted travails in selling his mother's house after her death, and the web of connections between his all-consuming marriage, the problem of global warming, and the life lessons to be learned in watching birds.

These chapters of a Midwestern youth and a New York adulthood are warmed by the same combination of comic scrutiny and unqualified affection that characterize Franzen's fiction, but here the main character is the author himself. Sparkling, daring, arrestingly honest, The Discomfort Zone narrates the formation of a unique mind and heart in the crucible of an everyday American family.
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The Discomfort Zone A Personal History Reviews

A.C. Bauch
i debated between giving this book two or three stars. ultimately, i'm giving it two; i wanted to like it more than i did. although the book starts off strong (i especially appreciated all of the cultural info from the 60s and 70s), toward the end, i found myself just wanting to be done with it. and i actually skimmed a lot of the last section. after a while, the narrative felt self-indulgent to me. although i appreciate franzen's honesty in all pages of this book, i also feel that the writing i i debated between giving this book two or three stars. ultimately, i'm giving it two; i wanted to like it more than i did. although the book starts off strong (i especially appreciated all of the cultural info from the 60s and 70s), toward the end, i found myself just wanting to be done with it. and i actually skimmed a lot of the last section. after a while, the narrative felt self-indulgent to me. although i appreciate franzen's honesty in all pages of this book, i also feel that the writing is strongest when he's not so focused on himself. because this is a collection of personal essays/memoir, that might not make sense, but i prefer to read creative nonfiction that takes me someplace other than the author's own head.
Michann
Always love Franzen. I particularly enjoyed the final essay in this collection, which tied his thoughts on marriage, the environment, birds (the birds!) into a surprisingly connected whole, interestingly set against the evolution of these ideas in society relative to his parents' generation.
Ashley
Some parts of this book were quite good, but when he started talking in great detail about the German literature he read in college and how many species of birds he has seen when he starts birding I lost interest quickly.
Strong Motion :: The Best American Short Stories 1995 :: Making History :: The Acme Novelty Library :: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach
Diletta
Noioso e sconclusionato? Direi proprio di no. Sarà che sono di parte e mi sembra sempre che Franzen mi dica "Porta pazienza Diletta, sono solo parenti", ma io lo definirei semplicemente chirurgico e letale.
Jane
When I read this, I recall finding his mastery of the written word unimpeachable, and his reflections mostly puerile.
Jeff Zell
The title is apt for this collection of essays. Franzen writes about his childhood, adolescence, college years, his marriage, and his life as a divorced person. Through it all there is a feeling of discomfort that comes through the stories he tells on himself. When he was young, he had friends, but was not a part of the "in" crowd. His decision to pursue literature as a college major and then to write articles and books for a living did not please his parents. His life with his wife came to an e The title is apt for this collection of essays. Franzen writes about his childhood, adolescence, college years, his marriage, and his life as a divorced person. Through it all there is a feeling of discomfort that comes through the stories he tells on himself. When he was young, he had friends, but was not a part of the "in" crowd. His decision to pursue literature as a college major and then to write articles and books for a living did not please his parents. His life with his wife came to an end when the issue of children, among other issues, came to the fore. He did not enjoy being single. When his Mother died, Dad died first, he was assigned by his brothers to sell the house. It was an occasion for all manner of uncomfortable remembrances. It is only after he meets, breaks up with, and then eventually reunites with the "Californian" that he seems to grow comfortable with his life and how it is unfolding.

The last chapter centers around his passion for "birding." As he writes about the challenges that birds face with the dismantling of their natural environment, one senses that birding is a parable for Franzen's life thus far. The birds are sighted, but not engaged with. Yet, at the same time, as Franzen observes the changes in the birds' landscape within the span of the ten years since he has been paying attention, he also sees that the birds will learn to adapt and survive one way or another. As Franzen's landscape changes, he adapts, and he will survive and flourish one way or another.
Chase Chandler
I chose to read The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen after my girlfriend’s father-- knowing I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace-- recommended I pick up something from Franzen’s collection. This book-- an autobiography-- was a treat I munched on and scarfed down faster than I had intended on finishing it. As a hybrid reader I typically prefer to limit my Audible use to commutes and cardio sessions in the gym, however purchasing the Audible version (a 5-Star presentation, in my opinion)-- rea I chose to read The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen after my girlfriend’s father-- knowing I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace-- recommended I pick up something from Franzen’s collection. This book-- an autobiography-- was a treat I munched on and scarfed down faster than I had intended on finishing it. As a hybrid reader I typically prefer to limit my Audible use to commutes and cardio sessions in the gym, however purchasing the Audible version (a 5-Star presentation, in my opinion)-- read by Franzen, himself-- at the same time of ordering the book off the store, led to me completing it before even receiving the hard copy. The Discomfort Zone was definitely a great book to start with of Franzen’s collection. I look forward to diving further into others of his nonfiction titles, and novels.
Gord
Having read and enjoyed Corrections, Freedom and Purity but seeing not much else that really interested me by Franzen currently, I decided to try his personal history, the Discomfort Zone.
It started out OK with some stories of his youth but then went off on some unusual (and not terribly interesting!) directions. Sorry, but I just wasn't keen to read page after page of deep insights into "Peanuts" or German literature or birdwatching fanatics or...?
I stuck it out because it wasn't very long and Having read and enjoyed Corrections, Freedom and Purity but seeing not much else that really interested me by Franzen currently, I decided to try his personal history, the Discomfort Zone.
It started out OK with some stories of his youth but then went off on some unusual (and not terribly interesting!) directions. Sorry, but I just wasn't keen to read page after page of deep insights into "Peanuts" or German literature or birdwatching fanatics or...?
I stuck it out because it wasn't very long and there was some interesting spots but pretty average.
Katie Grigsby
I picked up this book because of J Franzen’s articles about birds for National Geographic. He is an outspoken champion for bird conservation. But three pages in, I was charmed by his writing style. Twenty-seven pages in, I fell in love with his perspective and precision. The bird chapter made me laugh myself to tears, because I identify with him so much. I’ll be reading this again in the future.
Wendy Lawson
Loved it. Bought at Dog Eared Books in the Mission, August 2017. An oh-so-spot on enunciation of adult - middle aged, even - insecurity and discomfort. And disconcertingly and delightfully reflective of our current travels: one sentence reads "The California towhee that I watched at breakfast...... brought me more pleasure than Half Dome at sunrise or the ocean shoreline at Big Sur". Is he in the car with us??? Enough to make me take up birdwatching. Overall: felt like home.
Nick Milinazzo
From variously-themed essays, the author leads us through his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Sort of like a non-linear short-story memoir (non-linear in the respect that he occasionally veers off on tangents that take time to come back from).
Reading Franzen is like "coming home" for me. If you're any kind of fan you know what to expect: Laser-like focus. Dry, unflattering wit. Undeniable intelligence. Snarky, wonderful humor. And of course, a spectacularly enjoyable book.
Shahjy
This book managed to be both light-hearted and sombre, with Franzen simultaneously mocking and reflecting on his life with a sincerity and insight that was truly refreshing. It made me laugh, it made me nostalgic, it made me feel hopeless - I don’t think an autobiography could reflect life any better than that.
Liedzeit
Sieben sehr unterschiedlich interessante Kapitel. Am besten gefällt mir der Teil, wo er seine Liebe zu den Peanuts beschreibt, nur leicht getrübt durch den Verfall ab den 70ern. Woodstock und so. Meistens gibt es zwei Aspekte, Birdwatching und die Geschichte seiner Ehe. Elternhausverkauf.
Beth Stephenson
Beautiful story beautifully written. I love the weaving of the author's personal life and romantic struggles with the larger issues of global warming and environmental issues. It's a little book, but a powerful one!
Alex Clark
If you want to read six pages of what comics (and which local newspapers carried them) an author enjoyed as a kid, this book is for you.
Damien Evans
The last chapter brought it home nicely actually which was a pleasant surprise but most of the time I didn't enjoy this book. I often was wondering why he was telling us these stories.
John
A 4.5

Fascinating start to finish. Grateful for the peek inside Franzen's life.
Olivia Simpson
I've liked others of Franzen's but this memoir failed to grab me. I didn't feel sympathetic or even particularly interested in his story. I might suggest Sedaris instead.
Sheila
This was alright. I’ve read better and worse. Seriously hoping this isn’t an indication of what the year’s books hold for me.
J
I've often wondered, could a "memoir of an ordinary man" be interesting? A reading of this book positions the answer firmly in the sector of "no."
Patricia
Meh. I much prefer his fiction. Also, it just dead ends. I hate that.
Jane Thompson
I enjoyed everything but the chapter "The Foreign Language. "
Antonia
Faticoso. Come suppongo sarebbe conoscere Franzen in persona e faticare a stargli dietro.
Elizabeth
I finally started this book of memoir essays, another lovely gift from Barbara and Howard (thanks!) I enjoyed the first essay. He really goes balls out aligning the personal and the social. I am too lazy to type in a quotation, but the first essay was all about his personal experience of the economic shifts from the 60s till now (shrunken middle class, post-civil rights and racial identity politics, etc). The second essay I already read in the New Yorker, which published it around when Charles S I finally started this book of memoir essays, another lovely gift from Barbara and Howard (thanks!) I enjoyed the first essay. He really goes balls out aligning the personal and the social. I am too lazy to type in a quotation, but the first essay was all about his personal experience of the economic shifts from the 60s till now (shrunken middle class, post-civil rights and racial identity politics, etc). The second essay I already read in the New Yorker, which published it around when Charles Schultz died, as Peanuts is central to the themes of that essay (the generation clash around the late 1960s). Many, many, many echoes of the Corrections, particularly in the first essay about his mom (so much like Enid!!!).

From what I remember, reviewers said that Franzen as a youth is too self-absorbed to be appealing in memoir form. I'm not sure I agree, but I'm not sure why. To be contrary? Perhaps. These middle class white boys who are nervous about that (Franzen, Eggers, Foster Wallace) are fine by me because they at least have the decency to acknowledge their entitlement, even when they make a big ol' bungle of it (recalling the Mr. T's family stories in Eggers' memoir--Eggers and I shared one experience--going to schools whose black students came from one family).

Anyway, Franzen's self-absorbed nostalgia combined with social commentary suits my mood while moving. Excellent.

UPDATE:
I finished it last night! He's more than self-deprecating--he's downright hostile toward himself as a child, teen, young adult. I was alarmed, and anxious to read one redeeming thing about this kid. It got to the point where I was reassuring myself by making up redeeming things about this kid, as in, "well, his friends listen to what he says, so they must respect and like him at least a little." The last essay recounts adult life, and he relaxes toward himself quite a bit. I think that David Foster Wallace did this thing better in Poor Old Neon, frankly. By "this thing" I mean conflicted account of one's transition from messed up (brainy white middle class) boy to decent, relatively less messed up adult.

Franzen's determination to align the political/social and personal remains astonishing. He really tried! Like, global warming and his failed marriage were related? The good news is that this particular aspect of the book doesn't feel narcissistic. It feels more like part of his general project as a writer, explored in the famous "Harper's Essay" about contemporary fiction and the social novel.
Ryan Chapman
I greatly admired The Corrections and How to Be Alone, which is why I was initially hesitant about Franzen following up with a memoir. It felt like Tiger Woods following up the Masters with pickup games at a Par 30. By which I mean, there's no question Franzen's a master wordsmith--so when he deliberately curtails his ambitions, I feel slighted as a reader.

The half-dozen essays that make up The Discomfort Zone meander through the author's mild adolescence, nerve-wracked college years, and nerve- I greatly admired The Corrections and How to Be Alone, which is why I was initially hesitant about Franzen following up with a memoir. It felt like Tiger Woods following up the Masters with pickup games at a Par 30. By which I mean, there's no question Franzen's a master wordsmith--so when he deliberately curtails his ambitions, I feel slighted as a reader.

The half-dozen essays that make up The Discomfort Zone meander through the author's mild adolescence, nerve-wracked college years, and nerve-shot adult years. He almost revels in his own character assassination, which is part of hs problem. For if your genius lies in walking the line between pretension and grandeur in your fiction, that line's going to get a whole lot thinner when you turn the lens on yourself. I'm actually amazed Franzen had the nerve to publish the thing. Maybe it was some sort of exorcism of neuroses, I dunno.

What I do know is that I became enveloped in his world. A teenage kid growing up in the suburbs of middle America who just really wants to be left alone to read? Who then turns into a guilt-ridden liberal? Who...wears glasses? Maybe a little over-identification. Maybe.

I would have given this book another star if it were organized as well as How to Be Alone . Instead the arc of these pieces feels more clever than smart, more pat than planned. Give me something with some meat on it, but don't skimp on the presentation.

I'm still holding out for the next novel. I might have to wait a while: his new book is a translation of Spring Awakening. No, I'm not kidding. My company's publishing it.
Laala Alghata
I have been spectacularly awful about reviews recently. It’s mostly that my real life has gotten ridiculously busy as I started uni again, moved into a new apartment (and all the unpleasantries that accompany that, including fixing the broken appliances, buying random bits of furniture, getting internet, registering with local council, calling up G&E companies — oh man, being an adult is fun) and seeing people I haven’t seen in over seven months. Oh, and of course, going to lectures, studyin I have been spectacularly awful about reviews recently. It’s mostly that my real life has gotten ridiculously busy as I started uni again, moved into a new apartment (and all the unpleasantries that accompany that, including fixing the broken appliances, buying random bits of furniture, getting internet, registering with local council, calling up G&E companies — oh man, being an adult is fun) and seeing people I haven’t seen in over seven months. Oh, and of course, going to lectures, studying, and traveling.

Anyway, I’m going to try and churn out reviews, so I apologise if they’re less than stellar, it’s been a couple months since I’ve read most of these books and I want to be back up to date.

So, after reading Freedom, I was very much looking forward to reading more of Franzen’s work. I didn’t want to read The Corrections right away, because although I owned it, Franzen took his time coming up with a new book and I’d rather leave a bit of a gap between his two great novels. And I was curious about the man behind the words, especially after watching a couple of interviews with him and seeing his thinly-veiled contempt for having to go through all these interviews and his little twitch when he was asked banal questions.

The Discomfort Zone is an interesting read. Part of what struck me about it is what I felt about Freedom — that this man could be any other man, in any other job. He could be your neighbour or your best friend. He has similar memories and went through similar tribulations. Then the roads diverged and instead of being John Doe, he became Jonathan Franzen. One of the things that amused me was his real-life interest in birdwatching, since it became such a large part of Freedom.

The book is a quick read, and if you like Frazen, it’s a curiosity. But it could almost (almost, because you can still tell it’s a memoir) be seen as a novel that someone like Raymond Carver would write — not stylistically perhaps, but definitely as a notion.
John
A Compelling Memoir As An Essay Collection from Jonathan Franzen

“The Discomfort Zone” is an autobiographical essay collection – and memoir - from Jonathan Franzen that is among the most impressive examples of memoir writing that I’ve stumbled upon lately. Readers will get a most vivid and compelling portrait of Franzen – the person and the writer – and one that may illuminate their subsequent reading of his great novels. But this is an essay collection that is somewhat nonlinear with respect to A Compelling Memoir As An Essay Collection from Jonathan Franzen

“The Discomfort Zone” is an autobiographical essay collection – and memoir - from Jonathan Franzen that is among the most impressive examples of memoir writing that I’ve stumbled upon lately. Readers will get a most vivid and compelling portrait of Franzen – the person and the writer – and one that may illuminate their subsequent reading of his great novels. But this is an essay collection that is somewhat nonlinear with respect to time, opening and closing with important events in his adulthood. Surprisingly for me, given the realism of his current fiction, Franzen expresses ample admiration for the fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, invoking them repeatedly in his essay collection. Franzen renders a most affectionate portrait of his late mother and his family’s former residence in Webster Groves, a financially elite suburb of Saint Louis, in the opening essay “House for Sale”. He recounts his childhood love for comics, and especially, “The Peanuts” comic strip, in “Two Ponies”, touching upon his childhood relationship with his older brother Tom and their father. “Then Joy Breaks Through” describes his membership in a youth Christian fellowship, fondly recalling it as a sanctuary in an otherwise difficult adolescence that will resonate with many readers. Among the most memorable essays is the concluding one, “My Bird Problem”, in which he compares and contrasts his love of birding with his efforts at saving his marriage and then, later, finally finding romantic bliss with a much younger woman from California. Franzen’s simple, unadorned, prose shines through in each of the essays, reminding readers of his greatest works in fiction. Without question, “The Discomfort Zone” is an important addition to the memoir of genre, worthy of recognition as among its best.
Vicki Jarrett
I bought this book for two reasons – firstly, I knew from reading The Corrections that Franzen’s writing can be great (maybe a bit over-fond of itself at times but skilled enough to get away with it mostly) and thought that this slim volume implied greater economy, more focus. Secondly, I fell in love with the quote on the back ‘...the story of growing up squirming in your own skin, from a ‘’small and fundamentally ridiculous person” into and adult with strong and inconvenient passions.’ That comb I bought this book for two reasons – firstly, I knew from reading The Corrections that Franzen’s writing can be great (maybe a bit over-fond of itself at times but skilled enough to get away with it mostly) and thought that this slim volume implied greater economy, more focus. Secondly, I fell in love with the quote on the back ‘...the story of growing up squirming in your own skin, from a ‘’small and fundamentally ridiculous person” into and adult with strong and inconvenient passions.’ That combination of honesty, humour, tragedy and compassion that characterises the best bits of The Corrections seemed to be promised. The first section on his attempts to sell his mother’s house after her death lived up to this hope. The second, including an extended essay on the Peanuts cartoon strip was fascinating and touching. The remaining three chapters didn’t hold my attention so much. I was really struck by how conventional and even conservative the author was as a teenager. This could be seen as more rebellious than indulging in the usual teenage clichés – but these don’t seem to have been much in evidence in Webster Groves, the sheltered Midwestern US town where he grew up. This place sounds both idyllic and terrifying – the church youth groups seemed to me almost 1984ish in their group shaming sessions. By the end of the book, I was mostly glad it wasn’t any longer – the Bird-watching section was hard to get through. I liked his insights into what was driving his obsession with birds, but the prolonged listing of breeds and ‘exciting’ birding events nearly put me to sleep. Worth it if you’re a big fan of his other writing but perhaps not a great place to start if not already won over.
Kelli
This is the memoir that I was trying to uncover in "The Corrections."
Diane
I don't think most people would enjoy this book. It seemed to be written as catharsis for Franzen but had a surprising interest for me. It is quite disjointed and since I was listening to it on disk, I wondered several times if it had been mis-edited and put together incorrectly. It begins with Franzen coming to his childhood home to prepare it and its contents for sale. His mother has a terminal illness and has moved to a care facility. I recalled Franzen's book Corrections which dealt at lengt I don't think most people would enjoy this book. It seemed to be written as catharsis for Franzen but had a surprising interest for me. It is quite disjointed and since I was listening to it on disk, I wondered several times if it had been mis-edited and put together incorrectly. It begins with Franzen coming to his childhood home to prepare it and its contents for sale. His mother has a terminal illness and has moved to a care facility. I recalled Franzen's book Corrections which dealt at length with aging parents, childhood trauma revisited and house possessions, Discomfort Zone is much gentler; since I have been dealing with my own possessions, I was moved by his reflections.

The book moves on to his childhood. This is treated with the sardonic amusement one expects of Franzen and is enjoyable. He then moves on to his college years. He was a tortured German lit major and there are many fairly long passages in German and explanations of German texts. Since I was also a German lit major (less tortured), I found this quite fun, although I could only just barely understand his (excellent) German. (It has been nearly 50 years since I had any fluency). I wondered how many people could tolerate listening.

He finally moves on to a rambling and confused account of his relationships interspersed with ramblings about bird watching. I was not very interested in the relationships, but fairly interested in the bird watching.

All in all it seemed like it was based a journal written as an assignment for psychotherapy. By chance, several parts coincided with parts of my life.
Tracy
Enjoyable enough but not great and perhaps not the best book to choose as an introduction to Franzen. He does read the audiobook himself which was enjoyable and added a bit to the story.

This book waxes and wanes a few times and I couldn't help but feel like there is a giant part of Franzen that has not grown, learned and changed much since his twenties. Even in adulthood with his stories about bird watching and needing to prove himself to the greater public, he seems "emo", overly image-consciou Enjoyable enough but not great and perhaps not the best book to choose as an introduction to Franzen. He does read the audiobook himself which was enjoyable and added a bit to the story.

This book waxes and wanes a few times and I couldn't help but feel like there is a giant part of Franzen that has not grown, learned and changed much since his twenties. Even in adulthood with his stories about bird watching and needing to prove himself to the greater public, he seems "emo", overly image-conscious, and defensive - but maybe that is more normal than I would care to know. He also discusses recent relationships and his own thoughts and behaviors within these relationships and you just end up feeling like he is not much different than the high school and college-aged Franzen he also describes.

The anecdotes throughout the book are interesting and some are better than others, but I didn't really feel like there was a larger point so the book felt a bit more like short vignettes from his life rather than a cohesive memoir. The parts that were most interesting to me were those that examined his family life and what he experienced and how he interprets those experiences differently as an adult. It is in these moments that you can see the growth and maturity of an adult who has learned to shift his perspectives. He also uses the anecdotes surrounding bird watching to make a larger point about himself as a whole that I did appreciate.
Chiara in Wonderland
Quando lessi, ormai cinque anni fa, Le correzioni, mi innamorai di Franzen; fu un vero e proprio colpo di fulmine, un amore talmente perfetto da impedirmi, sostanzialmente, di leggere altre opere di questo autore. La paura di una delusione era così forte che non volevo correre il rischio. Dopo aver letto Zona disagio, un romanzo-autobiografico (io non amo le forme autobiografiche e, in fondo, nemmeno quelle biografiche, a meno che non siano dei veri e propri saggi di storia), mi trovo invece fel Quando lessi, ormai cinque anni fa, Le correzioni, mi innamorai di Franzen; fu un vero e proprio colpo di fulmine, un amore talmente perfetto da impedirmi, sostanzialmente, di leggere altre opere di questo autore. La paura di una delusione era così forte che non volevo correre il rischio. Dopo aver letto Zona disagio, un romanzo-autobiografico (io non amo le forme autobiografiche e, in fondo, nemmeno quelle biografiche, a meno che non siano dei veri e propri saggi di storia), mi trovo invece felicemente sposata con Franzen. Il nostro innamoramento assoluto si è tramutato in amore assoluto: anche qui, come nelle Correzioni, le manie, le ipocrisie, le storture del sistema, in primis del sistema-famiglia, sono delineate con angosciante lucidità, sono vive immagini, persone reali, sono i nostri amici e i nostri genitori, i nostri fallimenti e le nostre frustrazioni, la nostra ingombrante protezione che ci schiaccia sotto il suo peso, e altrettanto ci schiaccia quando viene a mancare.
Di questa storia d'amore non conosco ancora l'epilogo: per il momento l'idillio è certo, anche se nell'armadio, inevitabilmente, si cela un amante: come scegliere fra Jonathan Franzen e Philiph Roth?
Philip
What do you think it says about a review of Franzen when I start it with: "I am looking forward to reading The Corrections", rather than ending with that statement? I'll let you determine.

Franzen is an incredibly talented writer (and list maker) and while this slim memoir is engaging ��� in the end it feels only like a more intellectual version of a sit-com. I identify with the era, the family, the scenarios and they make me laugh, AND they make me think. However, there isn't much more to this t What do you think it says about a review of Franzen when I start it with: "I am looking forward to reading The Corrections", rather than ending with that statement? I'll let you determine.

Franzen is an incredibly talented writer (and list maker) and while this slim memoir is engaging ��� in the end it feels only like a more intellectual version of a sit-com. I identify with the era, the family, the scenarios and they make me laugh, AND they make me think. However, there isn't much more to this than that. Also, while I sped through the work, at least satisfied with the experience, the end where he wraps his life into a capsule of Bird Watching, was interminably long, as if he gave up but couldn't stop putting words on the page. In fact, there is a moment where he quotes a colleague whom after him sharing his new addiction of Bird Watching declares: No, you're not one of those!?!

I feel a little the same. I read the book with glee, laughing and thinking occasionally, but when I got to The Bird Problem �����it was all I could do, like Franzen, to just finish.

I DO look forward to reading The Corrections to see what all the hubbub is about and I imagine I will enjoy it greatly, given Franzen's wit and nuance.

��� Philip Swanstrom Shaw
Paul
I love Franzen's craft with sentences. It is clear he does not write casually and that sentences are worked and worked until he is satisfied. Of course, I can't KNOW that, but when a sentence makes me read it over and over again until I have truly thought about the meaning and the artfulness of its phrasing and its evocative qualities...well, I just sit (sometimes I'm standing, but very rarely) amazed. Franzen did this in the Corrections repeatedly and he does it to a lesser extent in this biogr I love Franzen's craft with sentences. It is clear he does not write casually and that sentences are worked and worked until he is satisfied. Of course, I can't KNOW that, but when a sentence makes me read it over and over again until I have truly thought about the meaning and the artfulness of its phrasing and its evocative qualities...well, I just sit (sometimes I'm standing, but very rarely) amazed. Franzen did this in the Corrections repeatedly and he does it to a lesser extent in this biography. I have to be clear, Franzen has not led an exciting life. This book is proof that well-crafted writing can make anything enjoyable. I could give a crap about bird watching, yet Franzen made his hobby interesting and borderline compelling. I have no new desire to bird watch, but I feel like I understand Franzen better. To me, that is the sign of a good writer. This is the second book I have read by him and I have to say he is as good as his accolades and that, I find, is rare company (Eugenides, Perlman, Chabon, and Franzen). As a side note, it occurs to me that I have no favorite living female writers and that is because I have not made an effort to seek out female literature writers. I will be rectifying this in the near future.
Oliver
I listened to this as an audiobook on the way back from Bloomington. It was pretty entertaining, just a lot of stories about Franzen's childhood and adolescence. Once he gets to be a grownup though he gets super obsessed with bird watching, which is not exactly the most fun thing to read about. And he seriously goes on about it. Also, he expresses very conflicting views about environmentalism throughout the book, which makes it a little hard to figure out what exactly he is trying to say. He doe I listened to this as an audiobook on the way back from Bloomington. It was pretty entertaining, just a lot of stories about Franzen's childhood and adolescence. Once he gets to be a grownup though he gets super obsessed with bird watching, which is not exactly the most fun thing to read about. And he seriously goes on about it. Also, he expresses very conflicting views about environmentalism throughout the book, which makes it a little hard to figure out what exactly he is trying to say. He does sound like a pretty bad boyfriend for the most part in his stories about relationships, but, it's good that he's being honest instead of just painting himself in a good light. Memoirs sometimes make me somewhat embarrassed/nervous for the author, because I can imagine how rough it must be for your entire family and all your exes to read all your intimate thoughts about them. It reminds me of writing zines/songs and being freaked out all the time knowing that everyone knows all this stuff about me. This is also a memoir that mentions alot about books that Franzen read in college, which was cool because it was all German literature, and made me kind of want to study German again.
Jeff Weyer
I just reread this book--I felt I needed to revisit it after reading it four years ago. Knowing nothing about it, I had grabbed it on the way out of town, the last trip to see my father as he was in his last days with cancer and hadn't been conscious for a week. Months of 500 mile drives I was staying in the house I grew up in, alone. In the early hours at the care facility on that last visit I pulled out the "The Discomfort Zone" and was immediately taken.

This book really spoke to me, maybe it I just reread this book--I felt I needed to revisit it after reading it four years ago. Knowing nothing about it, I had grabbed it on the way out of town, the last trip to see my father as he was in his last days with cancer and hadn't been conscious for a week. Months of 500 mile drives I was staying in the house I grew up in, alone. In the early hours at the care facility on that last visit I pulled out the "The Discomfort Zone" and was immediately taken.

This book really spoke to me, maybe it was the locale, growing up in "the middle of the middle" waiting for my escape and restlessness of those subsequent decades that Frazen writes so well of, and also of the coming home. You can see how the "Corrections" ties into this memoir.

When he wrote about the rotten hand that was dealt to his mom living alone undergoing chemo and radiation--in her last decade starting with his father's dementia, I couldn't help but think of my father spending his last days in the same facility that my mom passed away in nearly 25 years before, one that he so disliked. I'm really glad this book exists.

Brian
I had planned to start this little review like this: Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone is a rather unmemorable collection of personal essays dealing with and recalling, among other things, his relationship with his parents, adolescence, birding, and Snoopy, and is much less focused than his previous book of essays How To Be Alone. Then I thought, that’s not very nice, he’s writing about his childhood and baring all of his insecurities and quirks and self-consciousness that is, well, embarra I had planned to start this little review like this: Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone is a rather unmemorable collection of personal essays dealing with and recalling, among other things, his relationship with his parents, adolescence, birding, and Snoopy, and is much less focused than his previous book of essays How To Be Alone. Then I thought, that’s not very nice, he’s writing about his childhood and baring all of his insecurities and quirks and self-consciousness that is, well, embarrassing. So of course it’s memorable for him. But besides the essay “Centrally Located,” which details many elaborate I’m-a-senior-and-graduating-from-high-school-soon-so-I-need-to-leave-my-mark pranks, including an almost-successful plot to thread a tire over the school’s flagpole, I wasn’t really enchanted by this one. I had planned to (and still intend to) end this little review like this: Read it if you’re a Franzen fan, skip it if you’re not.
David
autobiographical essays focused mostly but not entirely on his childhood and adolescence. Engaging writer, able to make fairly typical scenarios (e.g., what does it feel like to be a part of a large group of kids who are in trouble, when you were not the perp? How about gaining concrete evidence of acceptance by a group when you feared no one really liked you, as when he's elected to the leadership council of a church youth group?) really come to life.

Ultimately, a drag on enjoyment of such a p autobiographical essays focused mostly but not entirely on his childhood and adolescence. Engaging writer, able to make fairly typical scenarios (e.g., what does it feel like to be a part of a large group of kids who are in trouble, when you were not the perp? How about gaining concrete evidence of acceptance by a group when you feared no one really liked you, as when he's elected to the leadership council of a church youth group?) really come to life.

Ultimately, a drag on enjoyment of such a personal book, for me, was not really liking the author, as he presents himself here anyhow. He seems to be a major misanthrope -- ex-wife and parents probably get the worst of it, but he really dislikes people in general. Main sentimental attachment, per the final essay, is to birds -- he's upset about climate change only because of the implications for birds.

In short, while I wouldn't seek out other books by the author, I'll definitely remember the extended description of a high school prank in which he and friends tried to get an old car tire around the 40-foot-high flag pole at their school.
Alex Yard
I enjoyed this a great deal. A few years ago I read and adored "Freedom" and "The Corrections" and mistakenly assumed those were is only two published works. Boy oh boy was I excited a month ago when I discovered he actually had five others. Two novels, two collections of essays, and this personal memoir, which I decided to read first so that I could get in the mind of Jonathan Franzen the actual person, before diving into his other fiction. This collection of essays was wonderful, I liked how e I enjoyed this a great deal. A few years ago I read and adored "Freedom" and "The Corrections" and mistakenly assumed those were is only two published works. Boy oh boy was I excited a month ago when I discovered he actually had five others. Two novels, two collections of essays, and this personal memoir, which I decided to read first so that I could get in the mind of Jonathan Franzen the actual person, before diving into his other fiction. This collection of essays was wonderful, I liked how each essay had an ostensible theme of subject matter, but used these subjects as a springboard to mention many different individual moments throughout time. These essays could all stand alone as individual ones, but reading them in sequence, you do sense a continuity of themes and identity. That last essay in particularly was frighteningly real, honest, loving, vulnerable, I didn't expect Franzent the actual person to go that "inside". I would recommend this to anybody who likes reading just a darn good, honest memoir; knowledge or appreciation of Franzen's other works is not at all necessary for enjoyment.
Nataša Sedminek
This book is a collection of self-baring memoirs that have been written well. Franzen hasn't disappointed his fans and delivers his witty yet honest take on American family life, this time his own, but he surely came short in telling the story in a gripping, teeth-gritting way as he did in his works of fiction. The stories tend to veer off in all sorts of directions, lose focus and end up sounding like incongruent journal entries. It's at the most a collection of random pieces of personal reflec This book is a collection of self-baring memoirs that have been written well. Franzen hasn't disappointed his fans and delivers his witty yet honest take on American family life, this time his own, but he surely came short in telling the story in a gripping, teeth-gritting way as he did in his works of fiction. The stories tend to veer off in all sorts of directions, lose focus and end up sounding like incongruent journal entries. It's at the most a collection of random pieces of personal reflections rather than a tightly woven memoir. However, it is still a gem as it gives reader the insight into the life of one of America's most celebrated authors today. One consolation is to know that authors are ordinary people, too, and by sharing his innermost thoughts on some of life's trivial issues in such a blunt and honest way, openly admitting to failures and just simply the account of his rather mundane childhood in somber Webster Groves makes him all the more relatable and brings Franzen a step, if not a more, closer to his readers.
Jessica Gordon
I like Jonathan Franzen. I think he's probably the best contemporary fiction writer in America, and I suspect he will be the to the next generation what Hemingway is to mine.

In some ways, this memoir is quite representative of Franzen's work: the sentences are lovely; his choice of language is intriguing and remarkably astute; ideas are woven together in seamless ways; and there are interesting connections between personal experience and larger issues relevant to the community or the world.

Thi I like Jonathan Franzen. I think he's probably the best contemporary fiction writer in America, and I suspect he will be the to the next generation what Hemingway is to mine.

In some ways, this memoir is quite representative of Franzen's work: the sentences are lovely; his choice of language is intriguing and remarkably astute; ideas are woven together in seamless ways; and there are interesting connections between personal experience and larger issues relevant to the community or the world.

This book, however, seems like two books: the first half is straight narrative, but the second half features all the larger connections. I liked all of the stories, and I appreciated his willingness to tell the truth, even if that meant disparaging himself (he made himself sound half crazy at times, especially with the birds), but the two parts felt disjointed to me. For that reason, this might be the only Franzen book I'm giving 4 stars rather than 5.

That said, I'm super excited to start Purity later today.
Anna Brammeier
I read about 3/4 of this collection of essays. I very much enjoy Franzen's rambling writing style, but after about three of the essays I felt done. I think I may have wanted more of a variety in their subject matter, or just didn't find the narrative voice compelling. If anything, I wanted him to quit whining. Once I got to the section about Franzen and his friends' "adventure" involving a tire and a flagpole I found myself not caring very much about the outcome.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a wr I read about 3/4 of this collection of essays. I very much enjoy Franzen's rambling writing style, but after about three of the essays I felt done. I think I may have wanted more of a variety in their subject matter, or just didn't find the narrative voice compelling. If anything, I wanted him to quit whining. Once I got to the section about Franzen and his friends' "adventure" involving a tire and a flagpole I found myself not caring very much about the outcome.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a writer's ability to make the ordinary interesting and meaningful, but something felt off, like Franzen was laying it on too thick that his childhood was awkward and his family dysfunctional. "The Corrections" is one of my favorite books--and I think I'll stick to Franzen's fiction, as I suspect his nonfiction more clearly reveals the unpleasant side of his personality. While sometimes that sort of transparency can aid an author--who must walk a thin line between lovable and hateable--in his case it only hurt.
Elizabeth
Sometimes I wish that Franzen weren't such a compelling writer because, while his prose is both perfect and poignant, reading this collection revealed to me that his structure isn't always what it could be. Don't get me wrong, it was delightful to read about the origins of his bird fetish, his infatuation with The Peanuts, and his early romantic foibles. Nonetheless, he doesn't move from anecdote to generality or from past to present quite as skillfully as I wish he might. It's hard to discern t Sometimes I wish that Franzen weren't such a compelling writer because, while his prose is both perfect and poignant, reading this collection revealed to me that his structure isn't always what it could be. Don't get me wrong, it was delightful to read about the origins of his bird fetish, his infatuation with The Peanuts, and his early romantic foibles. Nonetheless, he doesn't move from anecdote to generality or from past to present quite as skillfully as I wish he might. It's hard to discern this because nearly every paragraph he writes is practically perfect unto itself. Nonetheless, I'm convinced it's there -- jumps in logic (but also in style) that are masked by what can only be understood as prose compelling enough to mask these faults. Of course, I levy this as a criticism in the sense that it would be the best criticism I could ever hope to receive as a writer. I'll continue avidly, greedily, and happily reading Franzen until his prose degrades to the quality of his evidence -- and I'm not holding my breath (nor would I ever want) to see this happen.
Frank
I resisted reading this book because I'd already read two-thirds of it in the New Yorker, and the book itself got some pretty negative reviews. Nevertheless, I found it quite pleasurable to read (or re-read). There are some really funny moments in it, as well as some astute political analysis, much of which overlaps with The Return of the L Word, surprisingly. I also enjoyed the St. Louis milieu of the memoir. On the other hand, I couldn't help but think of how much better The Tender Land is tha I resisted reading this book because I'd already read two-thirds of it in the New Yorker, and the book itself got some pretty negative reviews. Nevertheless, I found it quite pleasurable to read (or re-read). There are some really funny moments in it, as well as some astute political analysis, much of which overlaps with The Return of the L Word, surprisingly. I also enjoyed the St. Louis milieu of the memoir. On the other hand, I couldn't help but think of how much better The Tender Land is than this book. Kathleen Finneran praises Jonathan Franzen, and he provided a glowing blurb for the paperback edition of her book; still, Finneran writes out of a much deeper humanity than Franzen does. In the end, Franzen seems concerned with showing how smart he is. Finneran is no less smart, but her portraits of her family and friends reverberate with love. Franzen tells us on the penultimate page of his book that he finally started to love his mother when she was dying of cancer, but he doesn't do much to convince us that he knows what that even means.
Karl Groll
The following quotes are taken from The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen. Page numbers are provided from the paperback published by Picador in 2006, ISBN: 978-0-312-42640-8.

---

"On the retreat. Six kids on the retreat - smuiked some duip."
"Did what?"
"'Duip'? What?"
"Smuiked marijuana," I said.
My mother frowned. 76

---

His paperbacks were at once low-priced, hich-acid crapola and the most precious of relics - moving testaments to how full of significance every line in them could be to a student o The following quotes are taken from The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen. Page numbers are provided from the paperback published by Picador in 2006, ISBN: 978-0-312-42640-8.

---

"On the retreat. Six kids on the retreat - smuiked some duip."
"Did what?"
"'Duip'? What?"
"Smuiked marijuana," I said.
My mother frowned. 76

---

His paperbacks were at once low-priced, hich-acid crapola and the most precious of relics - moving testaments to how full of significance every line in them could be to a student of their mysteries, as every leaf and sparrow in Creation sings of God to the believer. 134

---

a man could be a sweet, sympathetic, comically needy victim and a lascivious, self-aggrandizing, grudge-bearing bore, and also, crucially, a third thing: a flickering consciousness, a simultaneity of culpable urge and poignant self-reproach, a person in process. 145-146

---

How does it happen that a young person so quickly strays so far form the values and expectations of his middle-class upbringing? 152
Luchino
Tutt'altro che banale, come tutti i libri che ho finora letto di Franzen.
Pur non essendo quello che più mi ha impressionato, complice forse la struttura che consolida articoli o parti di articoli precedentemente apparsi su riviste e che finisce pertanto per essere poco omogenea per i temi trattati, tuttavia colpisce la comune tensione che aleggia in ciascuno sulla difficoltà di vivere quando si è essere senzienti dotati di un cervello che non smette mai di pensare, analizzare, dissezionare la p Tutt'altro che banale, come tutti i libri che ho finora letto di Franzen.
Pur non essendo quello che più mi ha impressionato, complice forse la struttura che consolida articoli o parti di articoli precedentemente apparsi su riviste e che finisce pertanto per essere poco omogenea per i temi trattati, tuttavia colpisce la comune tensione che aleggia in ciascuno sulla difficoltà di vivere quando si è essere senzienti dotati di un cervello che non smette mai di pensare, analizzare, dissezionare la propria vita, con una vena di (non troppo latente) insoddisfazione di fondo.
E poi scrive proprio bene, e anche questo non è scontato e riesce in questo modo a tenerti a bordo anche quando si dilunga in un (almeno per me) poco entusiasmante elenco di specie ornitologiche.
Ma il suo pezzo forte è, a mio avviso, la sempre spietata e calzante analisi delle umane relazioni, in particolar modo delle dinamiche all'interno della famiglia, che me lo aveva fatto amare per la prima volta ne Le correzioni.

Doug
Before reading this memoir I read some of the mixed reviews and so my expectations were not great. But it surprised me how much of Franzen's personal history I could relate to, perhaps least of all (strangely) his Swarthmore chapter, even though we overlapped there and knew some of the same people (although I did enjoy the riffs on classic German lit). I found his reflections on his family, church youth group, youthful pranks, and first marriage & post-marriage to be of more interest and exp Before reading this memoir I read some of the mixed reviews and so my expectations were not great. But it surprised me how much of Franzen's personal history I could relate to, perhaps least of all (strangely) his Swarthmore chapter, even though we overlapped there and knew some of the same people (although I did enjoy the riffs on classic German lit). I found his reflections on his family, church youth group, youthful pranks, and first marriage & post-marriage to be of more interest and experiences I could relate to more. So to me, the negative reviews are unfair and, i suspect, from people who are probably put off by his overexposure since The Corrections [but all the publicity was not his fault]. I find his fiction to contain incisive insights on people and American culture and this memoir does the same for himself and those of us from the same generation with similar experiences.
Gizem
The book has a very promising first chapter, it is well-written, thoughtful, and it raises a number of good points and contradictions about middle class values in the American Midwest in the 1960s. Yet, the rest is pointless, boring, self-absorbed stories of writer's childhood and early adolescence. I know the title must have been self-informative, yet there is always something not-so-"personal" in every story and the writer seems to have missed this (very badly in fact). The stories do not tie The book has a very promising first chapter, it is well-written, thoughtful, and it raises a number of good points and contradictions about middle class values in the American Midwest in the 1960s. Yet, the rest is pointless, boring, self-absorbed stories of writer's childhood and early adolescence. I know the title must have been self-informative, yet there is always something not-so-"personal" in every story and the writer seems to have missed this (very badly in fact). The stories do not tie into a larger argument, or context, there is no effort make something out of them. Did I tell you they were also boring? There are a number of good, thoughtful reflections on the feeling of growing up, and looking back to your teenager years and comparing your middle-aged self with your 18-year old self, or like his reflections of the Peanuts but unfortunately they get lost in his dull account of memoirs. -The Boredom Zone.
Dan
I read this memoir sometime after reading Franzen's "The Corrections" and "Strong Motion".

I loved TC--it's one of my favorite American novels. However, I thought "Strong Motion" was curiously weak and flat.

I had a feeling that TC was one those books that was "writ in blood"--a performance not to be repeated. Reading TDZ confirmed this suspicion for me. The reason that the characters in TC seem so real and resonate so strongly is that they are quite clearly based on composites of real people in I read this memoir sometime after reading Franzen's "The Corrections" and "Strong Motion".

I loved TC--it's one of my favorite American novels. However, I thought "Strong Motion" was curiously weak and flat.

I had a feeling that TC was one those books that was "writ in blood"--a performance not to be repeated. Reading TDZ confirmed this suspicion for me. The reason that the characters in TC seem so real and resonate so strongly is that they are quite clearly based on composites of real people in Franzen's life--granted "through the looking glass darkly"-kind of people, but real people none-the-less.

Franzen is an incredibly talented writer and essayist and TDZ is a very worthwhile follow up to those who have read and liked TC--but it will confirm the once in a lifetime nature of the book.
Melanie
So this book is really someone's journey you are a bit of a voyeur while you are reading and seeing his life. There were moments where I though I get that I see that but in all his life was his own. I liked that that there were things that cross and are similar but the reality is our lives are lived by ourselves so no matter how many similarities to another's it is your own. I loved the pranks, I never did pranks but My dad did so it made me smile.

I also love the way you are left knowing the jo So this book is really someone's journey you are a bit of a voyeur while you are reading and seeing his life. There were moments where I though I get that I see that but in all his life was his own. I liked that that there were things that cross and are similar but the reality is our lives are lived by ourselves so no matter how many similarities to another's it is your own. I loved the pranks, I never did pranks but My dad did so it made me smile.

I also love the way you are left knowing the journey is continuing without you.

I love these line about being a teenager "Even when something important happens to you, even when you're absorbed in building the foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you're aware that what's happening is not the real story. Unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you. This alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are."
Bookmarks Magazine
Though Franzen's upbringing was about as normal as you could possibly get, he makes reading about it because he's just a fucking outstandingly good writer. I've been wanting to read "The Corrections" for years but for some reason I've always had a hard time getting around "literary fiction." And I feel like it's on the docket for next year because I really throughly enjoyed this book. He has this trick where he comes off as both incredibly smart but avoids being obnoxious and offputting by being Though Franzen's upbringing was about as normal as you could possibly get, he makes reading about it because he's just a fucking outstandingly good writer. I've been wanting to read "The Corrections" for years but for some reason I've always had a hard time getting around "literary fiction." And I feel like it's on the docket for next year because I really throughly enjoyed this book. He has this trick where he comes off as both incredibly smart but avoids being obnoxious and offputting by being really warm and relatable and flawed as a human being. The only essay I personally found any issue with was the closer "My Bird Problem" and that's only because it had a little bit too much well-off guy whining that wasn't tempered with enough self-deprecation. However, the rest of the book is FULL of self-deprecation and all of the stuff about his high school years in the Christian Fellowship group were fascinating and infinitely readable and I'm sold on Franzen at this point.
Nick Scandy
Despite never truly enjoying the three Franzen novels I've taken for a spin, reading How to Be Alone reaffirmed my belief that Franzen is a still smart guy with a capable command of the English language. Even though his fiction is often bloated, drawn-out, and unnecessarily self-serving, the underlying theme of growing up in a conservative Midwest household only to respectfully reject much of it upon entering adulthood is easy with which to identify.

The Discomfort Zone isn't as sharp as How to B Despite never truly enjoying the three Franzen novels I've taken for a spin, reading How to Be Alone reaffirmed my belief that Franzen is a still smart guy with a capable command of the English language. Even though his fiction is often bloated, drawn-out, and unnecessarily self-serving, the underlying theme of growing up in a conservative Midwest household only to respectfully reject much of it upon entering adulthood is easy with which to identify.

The Discomfort Zone isn't as sharp as How to Be Alone, yet it still has a few memorable moments. Quite frankly, topics such as youth groups led by stereotypical cool youth ministers and in-depth accounts of birdwatching aren't quite up my alley, but his depiction of family tensions in classic suburban life is spot on.

I'd take the first third of The Corrections, How to Be Alone, or almost any John Irving novel over the rest of Franzen's catalog.
Kate
I deeply love Jonathan Franzen's book of essays "How To Be Alone," but that collection had more discrete essays that were self contained. This collection is a little overblown, threatening to spew out of the loose constraints Franzen has put it into. As always, the writing is compelling, and one gets the sense of a larger mind and purpose at work, but at the end, I wanted to ask, "What? What was that all about?"

I do have to say that the first essay, which details Franzen's sale of his mother's h I deeply love Jonathan Franzen's book of essays "How To Be Alone," but that collection had more discrete essays that were self contained. This collection is a little overblown, threatening to spew out of the loose constraints Franzen has put it into. As always, the writing is compelling, and one gets the sense of a larger mind and purpose at work, but at the end, I wanted to ask, "What? What was that all about?"

I do have to say that the first essay, which details Franzen's sale of his mother's house, hit very close to home, as that was what my own mother was doing for my grandmother's home while I read the book. And he hit those nerves very tenderly. Such a great writer, but I just wish he had someone who was willing to rein him in on this collection a little more. I'll do it, Mr. Franzen! Pick me!
Colin
Franzen's collection of essays, most of which originally appeared in the New Yorker in shorter forms, explore the effect childhood has on our adulthoods, and vice versa. I'm teaching this in my memoir writing class this summer, with the hope that my students--people on that track between childhood and adulthood--will see the connections between themselves and the outside world. Franzen makes odd connections between himself and the things around; one essay connects him and "Peanuts," another his Franzen's collection of essays, most of which originally appeared in the New Yorker in shorter forms, explore the effect childhood has on our adulthoods, and vice versa. I'm teaching this in my memoir writing class this summer, with the hope that my students--people on that track between childhood and adulthood--will see the connections between themselves and the outside world. Franzen makes odd connections between himself and the things around; one essay connects him and "Peanuts," another his adolescent sexual history and the German language, and still another the sale of his mother's house after her death and Hurricane Katrina. Also interesting, since I read a lot of these upon initial publication, is how Franzen links the essays into a book; it's nothing so obivous as a frame, but the essays do tend to refer, very subtly, to the essays preceding. It's a clever move, and one I wouldn't have noticed had I not been familiar with his earlier versions.
Ira
Liked it a lot. Reminded me a little of Tobias Wolf's This Boy's Life though Frantzen's was of course far more of a conventional upbringing. Even though Frantzen can be on the gloomy side (I had to see a therapist after reading the Corrections), I thought this book was rather uplifting, highlighting his efforts to find moments of joy and contentment both as a child and an adult in a world that he has trouble understanding and in which he has had to make many compromises. At the outset, I had tho Liked it a lot. Reminded me a little of Tobias Wolf's This Boy's Life though Frantzen's was of course far more of a conventional upbringing. Even though Frantzen can be on the gloomy side (I had to see a therapist after reading the Corrections), I thought this book was rather uplifting, highlighting his efforts to find moments of joy and contentment both as a child and an adult in a world that he has trouble understanding and in which he has had to make many compromises. At the outset, I had thought it was going to be a bitter diatribe against lousy parenting, hypocritical religious figures etc., but it surprised me as his approach was far more nuanced and loving. The chapters jump around a bit, but I think that it works better than if he had just gone chronologically as earlier chapters take on different meanings when seen in a different light. A nice read.
Katherine
There are some gems in here, some tight observations and really funny and self-aware childhood anecdotes, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is already a Franzen fan. But it’s impossible to ignore just how Franzen the book is. He can be unbearable at times, with ridiculously self-indulgent vocabulary (I promise I’m not being anti-intellectual here— some of his word choices are disruptive to their own sentences) and an oddly gleeful kill-joy spirit. Like with most of his nonfiction, there were pa There are some gems in here, some tight observations and really funny and self-aware childhood anecdotes, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is already a Franzen fan. But it’s impossible to ignore just how Franzen the book is. He can be unbearable at times, with ridiculously self-indulgent vocabulary (I promise I’m not being anti-intellectual here— some of his word choices are disruptive to their own sentences) and an oddly gleeful kill-joy spirit. Like with most of his nonfiction, there were parts where I wanted to shake him. Shake him hard. Till his teeth rattled. But then, I often want to do the same thing to myself. So there you go. If you’re new to Franzen, read his novel Freedom. It’s fantastic. If Freedom already won you over, The Discomfort Zone will explain how that book came to be.
Charles Adkinson
I only liked this book. It was a bit eclectic in its arrangement. Franzen's books have been some of my favorites (except for Twenty-Seventh City - meh) and I didn't think Discomfort Zone was unreadable, just too random and abbreviated for me to find a good rhythm. I believe I would have found a more full-length autobiography of Franzen more engaging. This one focuses on his adolescence, some of his college years, and then somewhat arbitrarily jumps forward to what I assume was approximately pres I only liked this book. It was a bit eclectic in its arrangement. Franzen's books have been some of my favorites (except for Twenty-Seventh City - meh) and I didn't think Discomfort Zone was unreadable, just too random and abbreviated for me to find a good rhythm. I believe I would have found a more full-length autobiography of Franzen more engaging. This one focuses on his adolescence, some of his college years, and then somewhat arbitrarily jumps forward to what I assume was approximately present-day when the book was released. I wanted to read about a young writer's ideas and mind taking shape in a cultural context and kind of see what it was like for him writing his first three novels. In the end, this one doesn't discourage me at all from wanting to read How to Be Alone, but it also doesn't vault it to the top of my To-Read list either.
James
A lot of this is very good, but I just wish he hadn't ended with the bird essay. I really could not care less about birding, and though I recognize he's using it as a backdrop for exploration (exorcism?) of some personal issues, that piece just poisons my opinion of the work as a whole. I guess he successfully avoids veering into self-pity when discussing his disastrous personal relationships, which is not an easy thing to do. However, even an objective retelling of his wretched marriage and unc A lot of this is very good, but I just wish he hadn't ended with the bird essay. I really could not care less about birding, and though I recognize he's using it as a backdrop for exploration (exorcism?) of some personal issues, that piece just poisons my opinion of the work as a whole. I guess he successfully avoids veering into self-pity when discussing his disastrous personal relationships, which is not an easy thing to do. However, even an objective retelling of his wretched marriage and uncomfortable family life can be pretty cringe-worthy. I think I got enough of that in The Corrections and The Twenty-Seventh City.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my favorite pieces are those that deal with his childhood and adolescence in the suburbs of St. Louis. Despite the generational remove, I think it's safe to say he nailed it.
Abbie
As someone who LOVED The Corrections, I just... don't have much to say to this one.

First of all, I forgot between the time I bought the book and the time I started reading that it was about Franzen's life, so it took me a chunk of the first section to remember that. And then... I don't know. I suppose what I expected was more of a memoir, which this just, is not. And that's fine!

Obviously this is what Franzen wanted to say, and that's his prerogative, but for me personally, I found the majority As someone who LOVED The Corrections, I just... don't have much to say to this one.

First of all, I forgot between the time I bought the book and the time I started reading that it was about Franzen's life, so it took me a chunk of the first section to remember that. And then... I don't know. I suppose what I expected was more of a memoir, which this just, is not. And that's fine!

Obviously this is what Franzen wanted to say, and that's his prerogative, but for me personally, I found the majority not-that-interesting to read. The family narrative, my favorite part (obviously) was vague and choppy and never as interesting or absorbing as it might have been. And the rest of it was... interesting, in theory, but not in book form. At least for me. So I did not enjoy this.
Heather
Such dull memoirs from such a great fiction writer. I feel like there is a huge spark for me when Frazen writes - factually or fictively - about his family, but when he strays from that it is zzzzzzzz. His first chapter/memoir in this collection - about having to sell his family house after his mother died was great. Then he delved further into his childhood youth groups and things and it is just very boring. I have no idea why he is writing it or what he is trying to say. In short, for me, Fran Such dull memoirs from such a great fiction writer. I feel like there is a huge spark for me when Frazen writes - factually or fictively - about his family, but when he strays from that it is zzzzzzzz. His first chapter/memoir in this collection - about having to sell his family house after his mother died was great. Then he delved further into his childhood youth groups and things and it is just very boring. I have no idea why he is writing it or what he is trying to say. In short, for me, Franzen is 100% hit or miss. The misses started being more numerous than the hits in this collection, so I am putting it down.

Update: Megan shamed me into reading more of this. It does get better, but some of the middle essays still were zzzz. Also, he seems like a neurotic dude. Says the pot.
Nikka Calindas
Reading Franzen's The Discomfort Zone is like having your aching tooth removed by a skilled dentist - you might have been anticipating lots of pain before the operation begins, but after a minute or two sitting on the chair with your mouth wide open, you begin to realize that it is a kind of pain that you can savor for the rest of that (rather un-) fortunate situation.

The story is not in chronological order. It started with the author's mother's death, then went straight into childhood, then tee Reading Franzen's The Discomfort Zone is like having your aching tooth removed by a skilled dentist - you might have been anticipating lots of pain before the operation begins, but after a minute or two sitting on the chair with your mouth wide open, you begin to realize that it is a kind of pain that you can savor for the rest of that (rather un-) fortunate situation.

The story is not in chronological order. It started with the author's mother's death, then went straight into childhood, then teenage years, then childhood again, then adulthood until the disintegration of the author's marriage and finding someone new. Everything has a tinge of nostalgia and a little heartache on it.

Best to read on a chilly afternoon with hot coffee by your side.
Sheng
My five stars probably means that I related to Jon a little too much, but endearing is not the word I would use to describe his humor. He tells his personal history with sharp, sharp insight into his "failure" to measure up to societal expectations, establish intimate relationships, follow hobbies, and reconcile his lack of courage with his audacious visions of what the world must be. My favorite parts were 1) his story-within-a-story of Charles Schulz's life and his suffering as an artist that My five stars probably means that I related to Jon a little too much, but endearing is not the word I would use to describe his humor. He tells his personal history with sharp, sharp insight into his "failure" to measure up to societal expectations, establish intimate relationships, follow hobbies, and reconcile his lack of courage with his audacious visions of what the world must be. My favorite parts were 1) his story-within-a-story of Charles Schulz's life and his suffering as an artist that engendered his brilliant comics, and 2) Franzen's own experience in "Fellowship" that was a coming-halfway-of-age story. He ends on a humble note, though - he still has his problems, with birds and otherwise. Franzen's hindsight is at least 23/20.
Mboconnor31
After starting The Corrections twice, I decided to read Franzen's memoir first. Again my tried and true approach to learning about an author first by reading their memoir as a way of orienting myself to an author's work. True to form, this memoir opened my eyes to the author's life and times beginning with his background growing up in a Catholic family from St. Louis, Missouri. He was the youngest (much younger) of three boys from a marriage that typifies the relations between men and women in t After starting The Corrections twice, I decided to read Franzen's memoir first. Again my tried and true approach to learning about an author first by reading their memoir as a way of orienting myself to an author's work. True to form, this memoir opened my eyes to the author's life and times beginning with his background growing up in a Catholic family from St. Louis, Missouri. He was the youngest (much younger) of three boys from a marriage that typifies the relations between men and women in the post-World War II era. I am ready for more Franzen, who reminds me of his late friend David Foster Wallace in his acute observations, his critiques of our times and his unabashed and fearless honesty.
Anna
I loved The Corrections but didn't gorge on Franzen's memoir in the same insatiable way. Much of it is beautifully written but his tales of growing up in the 60s and 70s didn't resonate with me as much as I imagine they would have with someone whose formative years were spent in that era and geography. It also occasionally lacked cohesiveness which, although by no means a significant flaw, contributed to an overall sense that they were a collection of essays more than an overarching chronology. I loved The Corrections but didn't gorge on Franzen's memoir in the same insatiable way. Much of it is beautifully written but his tales of growing up in the 60s and 70s didn't resonate with me as much as I imagine they would have with someone whose formative years were spent in that era and geography. It also occasionally lacked cohesiveness which, although by no means a significant flaw, contributed to an overall sense that they were a collection of essays more than an overarching chronology. I think I sound more critical than I actually am because I did enjoy the book; it just didn't excite me the way I'd anticipated. Franzen's a great writer but I think I prefer his talent in a fictional narrative...
Iva
A little too self-absorbed is Jonathan Franzen. However, this collection of essays, musings and reminiscences purports to be about him, his family, his obsession with bird watching, and the high school antics he participated in. Lots of material about his parents and their suburban ways: i.e. his mother's concern over the correct clothes for every occasion wasn't always right. She made him dress up to go to Disneyland. Excellent college teachers pushed him toward his successful writing career. H A little too self-absorbed is Jonathan Franzen. However, this collection of essays, musings and reminiscences purports to be about him, his family, his obsession with bird watching, and the high school antics he participated in. Lots of material about his parents and their suburban ways: i.e. his mother's concern over the correct clothes for every occasion wasn't always right. She made him dress up to go to Disneyland. Excellent college teachers pushed him toward his successful writing career. He gives excellent examples of strong teaching and learning. For an audiobook, Franzen was a solid reader, but he doesn't have quite the polish and range that many professionals give to their reading.
Jennifer
Truth be told: I bought this book because I liked the cover. The "map" of the heart was so true and beautiful art. I loved this book, and as soon as I finished it I ran out to find something else by Franzen (the tiny bookstore in the town we were in on vacation didn't have anything, so I just bought The Corrections.) I can't find it now to remind myself specifically what I loved about it (maybe I left it on vacation?), but I think it was his honesty about his quirks and his ability to acknowledg Truth be told: I bought this book because I liked the cover. The "map" of the heart was so true and beautiful art. I loved this book, and as soon as I finished it I ran out to find something else by Franzen (the tiny bookstore in the town we were in on vacation didn't have anything, so I just bought The Corrections.) I can't find it now to remind myself specifically what I loved about it (maybe I left it on vacation?), but I think it was his honesty about his quirks and his ability to acknowledge the ridiculous situations we get ourselves into when propelled by curiosity, pride, and passion. And, unlike some autobiographical essays, it was believable. Excellent writing. Humorous and poignant. Quick read (my favorite kind.)
Jonathan
A solipsistic collection of essays. There is some good stuff here, but How To Be Alone was more interesting and less of a personal confessional. Granted, this is supposed to be "a personal history". Franzen writes well, and with plenty of humor. His ability to acknowledge his neuroticism and parody himself is impressive.

One note - if you haven't read The Corrections you should read that first. I always figured the characters from The Corrections were based on Franzen's family, but this collectio A solipsistic collection of essays. There is some good stuff here, but How To Be Alone was more interesting and less of a personal confessional. Granted, this is supposed to be "a personal history". Franzen writes well, and with plenty of humor. His ability to acknowledge his neuroticism and parody himself is impressive.

One note - if you haven't read The Corrections you should read that first. I always figured the characters from The Corrections were based on Franzen's family, but this collection makes it clear just how autobigraphical that novel is.
Vivien
As a coming-of-age story about a young white boy in the suburbs, Black Swan Green is better, but this book is ostensibly true, so... it's a draw? I don't even know what criteria I'm using any more. As with the Corrections, it's impossible for me to tell whether I would have enjoyed this book half so much had my experiences not been so brutally, comically mirrored by the narrator's (presumably, Franzen himself). I too was an escapist child with two older siblings, I too took refuge in writing and As a coming-of-age story about a young white boy in the suburbs, Black Swan Green is better, but this book is ostensibly true, so... it's a draw? I don't even know what criteria I'm using any more. As with the Corrections, it's impossible for me to tell whether I would have enjoyed this book half so much had my experiences not been so brutally, comically mirrored by the narrator's (presumably, Franzen himself). I too was an escapist child with two older siblings, I too took refuge in writing and dreaming, forever reluctant to enter the real world, unreasonably squeamish and evasive of experiences I told myself I really wanted to have. So, would a person who had been really well adjusted as a child enjoy this book? I have no way of knowing.
Tom
I really enjoyed this very rare opportunity to see my home suburb referenced over and over in print. Now I know how New Yorkers feel!

Somewhat more seriously, I appreciated the scope of this book, and how each chapter was able to branch off in half a dozen different directions while still coming around to some central point in the end. I'm sure I was extra patient because every single Webster Groves locale was already carved into my memory, but I think I would've liked this book regardless. I've I really enjoyed this very rare opportunity to see my home suburb referenced over and over in print. Now I know how New Yorkers feel!

Somewhat more seriously, I appreciated the scope of this book, and how each chapter was able to branch off in half a dozen different directions while still coming around to some central point in the end. I'm sure I was extra patient because every single Webster Groves locale was already carved into my memory, but I think I would've liked this book regardless. I've been resistant to Franzen because he comes across as such an insufferable curmudgeon whenever he inserts himself into cultural dialogues -- and I assumed I would particularly dislike him as a nonfiction writer -- but I'm happy to say I'll likely read him again in the near future.
Lynh
At first this was funny. I guess awkward adolescence always is. Unsure of yourself with girls? hilarious! I don't really remember what happened after that - he goes into his unresolved marriage, he tries to escape it by birdwatching and living in, of all places, galveston, texas? Perhaps this should have been a collection of essays rather than a book, because you can enjoy the stories in disjointed bits and pieces, but when they are combined and presented as a book, you're not quite able to enjo At first this was funny. I guess awkward adolescence always is. Unsure of yourself with girls? hilarious! I don't really remember what happened after that - he goes into his unresolved marriage, he tries to escape it by birdwatching and living in, of all places, galveston, texas? Perhaps this should have been a collection of essays rather than a book, because you can enjoy the stories in disjointed bits and pieces, but when they are combined and presented as a book, you're not quite able to enjoy them as much - because things clearly don't fit together. Then again, I guess, Franzen doesn't either.
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